7 Expert Tips to Improve Black Bear Hunting Success
Straight from the home office in downtown Bruinville, here's some of the best black bear hunting advice from Outdoor Channel TV hosts to help increase your own chances of hunting adventure success
During spring and early summer it seems as if all of the world is out in the woods hunting for a sizable black bear.
Especially the kind of shaggy bruin sporting a prime coat and a pumpkin-size head.
Take, for example, the exchange of texts and e-mails I recently received from Outdoor Channel co-host Pat Reeve after he returned from Saskatchewan with daughter Olivia and son Carson, both of whom tagged big bruins.
"Olivia's bear weighed in at 440 pounds and she took it with a crossbow ... on the ground ... with no blind," said Pat, who filmed the hunt for the Driven TV show he and wife Nicole produce. "We got some really good footage of the hunt.
"And Carson shot a (really) good bear too, also off of the ground with his crossbow," he added. "It's crazy good footage."
Not to be outdone, Pat Reeve's son Carson also got some time crossbow hunting in front of the Driven TV cameras. And like his sister Olivia, he sealed the deal on this shaggy bruin, hunting on the ground without a blind. (Photo courtesy of Pat Reeve)
For further proof of Outdoor Channel personalities bearing down on hunts, check out the big grins on social media.
When surfing Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, be sure to check out the smiling mugs of the first family of hunting, the Jim Shockey crew. Eva Shockey-Brent's professional-hockey-playing husband, Tim, has one of the biggest spring smiles with a huge bruin he took with his BowTech bow.
And then there's the photos of success from the Archer's Choice crew of Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo and also David Holder, the headman of the Raised Hunting clan.
They have all enjoyed tremendous bear hunting.
With that in mind, here are seven tips from Ralph and Vicki and from David Holder to help increase success in the woods when there is a black bear tag burning a hole in your back pocket.
Hunting black bears in the spring and early summer can be an intense experience. Use the seven tips in this story to aid your chances of success.
1. Bug Control: It's an indisputable truth that spring bear hunting in the Rocky Mountains, the Canadian provinces or the dense forests of coastal Alaska will be crawling with bears in the late spring and early summer.
And bugs, some big enough to tempt some politicians to declare them the official state or provincial bird.
"With an early spring bear hunt, it brings out the early bugs," laughed Vicki. "Don't be fooled into thinking they are no big deal because in spring bear country, they are. So much so that they can ruin your hunt.”
How does a spring bear hunter combat pesky insects without the use of overpowering bug repellent sprays that may keep a wary bruin from coming in to your setup?
"We NEVER go bear hunting without our Thermacell's put into our packs," said Ralph. "Period!
"If you hunt with a mask or gloves make sure that you practice with all of that on," said Vicki. "A facemask can make it look a lot darker in the timber and gloves can change up your grip a little bit. Practice with everything before you head out this spring."
In a year of very successful black bear hunting in Canada, Outdoor Channel personality Ralph Cianciarulo shows off a big shaggy bruin taken with a crossbow. (Photo courtesy of Ralph Cianciarulo)
2. Be Very, Very Quiet: With all due respect to Elmer Fudd, we're not hunting wabbits here. We're hunting bears, big black bears, some of the bigger big-game critters on the North American continent in places.
But big bears didn't get that way by being stupid; they are highly alert critters that rely heavily on a keen nose and a good set of ears to make up for less than stellar eyesight.
This means a hunter must be very, very quiet in the spring bear woods, especially on a warm evening with only the hum of mosquitoes in the air.
"You've got to remember that you are hunting very close up and personal and you've got to make sure that your bow, rifle or crossbow makes no noise when drawing back, when putting it up to your shoulder or when taking the safety off," said Vicki.
"Bears have phenomenal hearing, so check your clothing," added Ralph. "Today a lot of the new techy gear is not as quiet as the old reliable fleece, cotton or wool gear was in the past.
"Test everything before you head out and draw back your bow and have your family sit near and see if they hear anything," said Vicki. "If so, change it so that you can make the shot happen when the time is right."
3. Learn to Listen: If you've been married any length of time, you've probably heard the phrase from your spouse "You weren't listening, were you?"
Well, the same thing happens in the bear woods each spring and summer as hunters get lulled to a state of near sleep, only to be shocked and surprised when a huge bruin ambles into and out of shooting range in a matter of seconds.
The remedy? Learn to listen in the woods for the tell-tale audible clues that bears can transmit.
"Don't be fooled, a big ole boar can be as quiet as a (church) mouse coming in," laughed Vicki. "In fact, he (often) walks in the same tracks entering and leaving most of the time. This is called the pod trail, and when you locate one of these at your site, it's time to plan on sitting there (for a while)."
"There are times that a big bear will make some noise coming in, but the quieter you can sit the better off you will be," said Ralph. "It may only be a small branch cracking in the distance. Or you might hear something brush up slightly against some brush. Or perhaps a pine squirrel or a raven will alert you and let you know that a bigger predator is coming in.
"Listen to the woods and you will always be more successful," he added.
What kind of bait gets used on a spring or early summer black bear hunt? Would you believe ... red gummy bears? (Photo courtesy of Pat Reeve)
4. Use Your Optics: Sure, bear hunting in the spring and early summer is up close and personal. But according to Ralph and Vicki, the best way to take a good bear is to see him coming long before he gets into shooting range.
"Bring your optics to the stand," said Ralph. "In most springs – and especially this year with things warming up a lot sooner and a bit earlier than normal – you have more bears rubbing (their hides on trees and such) early on.
"Having your bino's with you allows a few things to happen," he added. "You can check out the hide for any (severe) rubbing (and bald spots), you can see if it's a boar and it allows you to judge a bear at a further distance to make the call on if it's what you are looking for.”
"The bottom line for us is that we never go on any hunt without our optics," said Vicki.
5. Know How to Judge a Trophy Bruin: Bear hunting might seem like a sport where most hunters do nothing more than sit in a treestand and wait, but the truth is that picking a worthy bear to spend your hunting tag on is actually rather difficult.
Why? Because with the big shaggy coats that they carry, even a small or moderately-size bear can appear to be a good specimen to hunters that aren't used to seeing black bears on the prowl.
Add in the fact bears do not carry antlers or horns to help gauge size and age and judging a mature bear and/or a trophy bruin that will approach either Boone & Crockett Club or Pope & Young Club scoring minimums becomes a difficult chore.
Because the key to field judging a bear in the field is to be able to determine just how big the bear's skull is beneath all of that fur.
"Bear hunting is a blast, but bears are probably the hardest animal to judge in the field," said Vicki. "We have been hunting black bears since the 1980s and even though we have seen more than most hunters have, they still can fool you."
"When it comes to age structure, one very common thing comes into play," added Ralph. "And that's the placement of the ears. For example, if a bear has his ears way up on his head and sort of looks like he's wearing a Mickey Mouse cap, you can pretty much judge that the bear is a younger bear.”
"An old boar will have his ears settled a bit lower on the side of his head, making the gap between them look further apart," agreed Vicki. "Many times you will see a prevalent crease on his forehead. A younger bear will not have any of these distinct markings."
6. Pick the Right Shot: Ralph and Vicki aren't the only bear hunters that have figured out how to put themselves into close proximity with big bears on a consistent basis.
In fact, just a few days before this was written, Raised Hunting's David Holder sealed the deal on yet another huge Canadian bruin in Saskatchewan.
Raised Hunting co-host David Holder used his Bear compound bow to take this huge bruin in Saskatchewan. Seen only two other times in a three-year span by hunters, Holder held out to take this 420-pound boar as time wound down on his hunt. (Photo courtesy of David Holder)
"He is a tank," said Holder of the boar that weighed in at 420 pounds and featured a Pope & Young-size skull measuring 20 4/8 inches. "This was a smart bear, one that had been hunted for three years with only two other hunters ever seeing him and they didn't get any shots.
"I sat four nights in a row and let 14 bears go waiting for him to show up," added Holder. "Just 20 minutes before it was game over for my trip, he showed up and I shot him at 24 yards with my Bear bow. He only went 40 yards and tipped over."
Which leads to a key tip from Holder, if a hunter wants to successfully tag a bear, that is.
"Always shoot them standing broadside," he said. "Trying to shoot a bear that is laying (down) or standing on their hind legs is asking for trouble; you're likely facing a long tracking job and possibly no recovery of the bear."
7. Pick a Spot: It might be the oldest adage in bowhunting, but it's never more true than in the spring or early summer bear woods.
"Really practice picking a spot," said Holder. "A black bear is all black hair, or so it seems, and the need to pick an exact spot is even more crucial (on this hunt than it is on other big game animals)."
While I can't guarantee following these seven tips will bring a Boone & Crockett- or a Pope & Young-size bruin, I can tell you such information can certainly increase your chances of success.
And if you doubt that, just consider the taxidermy and meat processing bills from Ralph and Vicki along with David Holder.